Author: Jenn Shagrin
Publisher: Lifelong Books
Buy On Amazon.com
Before I even began a recipe, this vegan cookbook had a few strikes against it. Its writing and presentation style is somewhere between zine quirkiness and more serious instruction. I don’t mind a dollop of personality with my recipes, but I found the intros, large type (forcing recipes needlessly onto two or three pages) and layout to be distracting. It’s not eye-blurring like some cooking zines (no annoying handwriting, cutesy illustrations, or casual approach to measurements or cooking times), but there are obvious opportunities here to tighten the layout and make it an easier read.
Like a lot of beginner-level gourmands, I like to get a sense of the overall recipe before starting it – the amount of time and effort, as well as the techniques and flavors involved. I have to read each recipe 3-4 times to get the gist. The ingredients frequently call for the inclusion of other basic recipes in the book, forcing a lot of page flipping and hastily revised calculations of prep time. An overall estimated time for each recipe would be useful. Better yet, numbering the steps instead of indents would have gone a long way in helping digesting the recipes quicker. Maybe it’s my ADD, but my biggest pet peeve is a multi-step recipe that looks like a block of text.
Another problem is the reliance on items that your typical flexitarian and vegetarian likely won’t find in their cupboard or local grocery. Shagrin does provide information on finding most of these ingredients, but they need to be sought out in advance through online or mailorder specialty shops to proceed with a large number of these recipes. (Cynically, I wonder if Shagrin gets royalties from MimicCreme, featured in a vast majority of recipes.)
My last big issue is that many of the recipes are simply unappetizing. I applaud Shagrin’s creativity and originality, as well as her intent on moving away from strictly fruit/vegetable/mushroom/nut/legume recipes, but in a lot of cases, the ingredient combinations seem random and unbefitting. Some sound downright insane. That’s a problem given the lengthy preparations, and ingredient checklist – who wants to spend time and money on recipes called “vegan eggplant parmesan ravioli with heirloom tomato, strawberry, and chocolate marinara” or “vegan sausage and beer gravy over cheddar, green onion, and cilantro buttermilk biscuits with fresh dill and dandelion greens”? The most head-spinning: “Lemon-thyme-agave-braised vegan short ribs and seared tofu scallops in a mineola tangelo-saffron sauce.” Besides the fact that it requires looking at four different recipes to make, I wouldn’t eat that combination if it were non-vegan and served to me by Mila Kunis.
(Since I’m piling on, I might as well add another critique – the cover infers 200 recipes, but I counted only around 140. WTF?)
I tried a few recipes that were more appetizing – although altered to cut down on time – and they came out good. The “vegan orange-sesame grilled chicken tenders” (made with extra-firm tofu instead of chicken-style seitan) was tasty if too orange-y. The “butternut squash and vanilla bean risotto” was a good, standard risotto recipe, though the vanilla flavor was an unnecessary addition that made it a bit cloying.
My problems with the book aside, I will definitely at some point try out the kalbi recipe and the vegan Twinkie.
Bottom Line: Inventive recipes that don’t always make sense.